NPR ran a recent story about concerns US Intelligence officials have regarding transitions in political power in three countries run by heads of state whose health is failing. In each of these three countries no mechanism exists for the peaceful transfer of power. Indeed, there is every suggestion that some sort of political power struggle might ensue when these current leaders pass on.

Moreover, each of these countries carries a special risk for the US—Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest exporter of oil; North Korea has nuclear weapons; Cuba is strategically placed within 90 miles of US borders. Small wonder then that the US Intelligence community is monitoring these situations closely.

Potential power vacuums are always worrisome. Transitions are not necessarily peaceful or pleasant. Outcomes are often unpredictable and sometimes lead to unexpected consequences.

One of my coworkers recently lost her mother to cancer at 52 years of age. At the time of diagnosis, the primary lung cancer had spread to both liver and brain. Doctors offered palliative therapy to get her through the holidays. Despite all of the good care this woman received, she passed away—at home with family members by her side.

Several months ago this woman had taken the time to write letters to each of her three grown children and her grandchildren. These letters were distributed by her husband at the time of her death.

When the news came of her passing that Sunday morning, instead of driving directly to her mother’s home, my coworker took a roundabout route. It was a cold grey winter morning; the roads were choked with overnight snow and ice. As she made her way alone in the car, my coworker found herself talking to her mother. Momentarily, the sun broke through the massive clouds overhead. The light reflected off the snow so intensely that she had to lower the visor to shield her eyes.

Later that day my coworker opened her mother’s letter. Quietly she laid it in her lap after reading the final sentences. “I love you, Baby Girl,” her mother had written. “After I’m gone, look for the sun. Whenever it streams down onto your face, that’s me sending my love to you.”

Transitions are seldom easy. Outcomes are unpredictable; they carry elements of risk. Sometimes they can lead to unexpected consequences—some of which, even in the most difficult moments, can be exceedingly reassuring.


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